Monday, November 17, 2008

The -- Okay, MY -- Final Word on the El Coyote Boycott


The time has nearly come to move further discussion of the El Coyote Boycott off of my food blog, and get back to describing the sweetness of a caramelized onion or a perfectly charred steak. El Coyote has become just one part of a much wider political, social, and legal issue, which I'm interested in and will continue to discuss over at infinitejess.blogspot.com. In fact, if you go there now you can see some pictures and discussion of Saturday's big rally downtown... where I saw quite a few familiar faces from El Coyote.

But since there's been such impassioned discussion on this board, I'll allow myself one last post on the subject.

I feel like I've been trying to be a voice of reason during what has been an emotionally upsetting time for regulars of the restaurant, be they gay or straight, and for the gay community that surrounds it. I truly appreciate the civil dialogue that's cropped up in the comments on my last two posts.

Last Thursday, I had a plan to dine at El Coyote in the early evening, but then heard about the planned demonstration there at 7. After, believe me, a lost night's sleep, I decided that I could support the freaked-out staff of EC and honor the protest at the same time, by showing up long before the protest started (so as not to cross a picket line), and then chatting with arriving protesters, when I left as they were arriving. I was helped in walking this tricky line, and developing coping strategies, by the best political strategist I know. Bly's take on boycotts is a must-read.

My group of six sat at the infamous Tate table (where Sharon Tate ate her last meal the night of her murder at the hands of the Manson Family). Billy, friend to every El Coyote regular, came by our table to thank us for our support in being there on what was going to be a nightmarish shift for the staff. We sucked down margaritas, fortification against the screaming, chanting, and horn-honking that could be heard coming from outside.

When we left, we talked, one-on-one, with some of the 175 protesters. All were understandably angry and frustrated; after all, 52 percent of Californians in our true-blue state had voted to take away equal rights granted to them by the constitution and the Supreme Court of California. A gentleman who gave his name only as Tom said he felt betrayed by manager Marjorie Christofferson's donation to Yes on 8; that whether Margie was an owner or not, his money, spent here over decades, was going to people who voted to taken away his civil rights, and he could no longer support the restaurant. He opined that if Margie was just an employee, she should be fired for her views. I asked if he would be comfortable being fired from his job for his political views. He said, "If I was a white supremacist... yes." This was of course impossible to formulate a suitable response to; there's no denying the emotion of being oppressed. We left, watching a sad scene of protesters harassing confused and frightened folks -- tourists, regulars, whoever -- leaving or trying to enter the restaurant, chanting "shame on you" and other, choicer epithets. As strongly as I feel about the wrongness of prop 8, this, I thought, is clearly not the way to win the hearts and minds of voters.

I went back to El Coyote on Friday night. There were still some protesters out front, maybe a dozen or so. But to my surprise the restaurant was pretty hoppin' inside. It was just... different. A straighter crowd. Much straighter. In fact, the management told me, and my conversations around the restaurant confirmed, that though there were a lot of extra-supportive regulars, like myself, there were also a lot of Mormons and other Yes on 8 supporters coming out to make their own statement.

Ouch.

I don't think this is the desired effect of a boycott.

Backlash against this boycotts has begun, from the most recent comments on my own blog to Tim Rutten's Op-Ed in the L.A. Times to the national media: I watched a debate on CNN
Sunday night where a pro Proposition 8 spokeswoman focused on "the hateful boycotts" and "harassment" of "Mormon employees of businesses" by the gay community. (I won't even tell you what Mike Huckabee was saying on Fox News!) This type of activity allows the H8ers to debate debatable tactics, rather than confront the larger issue of civil rights.

El Coyote has made every possible overture to the community short of "firing" Margie (the founder's niece), by making large donations on behalf of the restaurant to gay charities and even, as reported in the L.A. Times, gay and straight employees gathering personal donations totaling an amount five times greater than Margie's controversial 100 bucks.

Now, I'm not gay and this is not at the deepest level "my battle." Nevertheless, I will humbly offer to those of my fellow El Coyote regulars who happen to be gay this proposition: that El Coyote is not the enemy, it is an old friend, deserving of forgiveness. Do you really want to stay away while El Coyote -- a place where gay and straight used to hang out and speak the truth as only El Coyote margaritas can make you speak the truth -- stay away while El Coyote -- El Coyote??? -- transforms its business model into a hangout for Mormon families and Yes-on-8'ers?

Instead, why not take all that justifiable frustration and turn it into time and money donated to your local Repeal 8 campaign, energy at the phone banks during the next election battle, letters to legislators explaining, simply, that the majority does NOT have the right to deny civil rights to any minority group of law abiding, tax paying citizens.

I urge my gay friends to come back to El Coyote. Spend your time there doing as you have always done: relaxing, getting loose, and chatting -- nicely, please -- with the tourists and youngsters and oldsters in this diverse establishment, be they Mormons from Utah or bigots from the south or local blacks who voted for 8. Tell them how much this means to you. Tell them how human and compelling your stories are. Make El Coyote about what you're fighting for: love, not hate.

9 comments:

  1. melinda2:14 PM

    Love it, Jess. I'm a big fan of the ol' "What would Jesus do?" motto. Hmm...I think He'd be compassionate and non-judgemental and would enjoy a frosty margarita with all of us...unless you're Mormon...He's not one to offend. ::wink::

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  2. I don't know what to do about the El Coyote boycott, and I'm out of town and out of touch and don't have to decide. But I must say that firing people for their political beliefs is a big constitutional no-no. Your personal beliefs, no matter how distasteful, are protected by your constitutional right to privacy. As long as you don't act in a harmful way on these harmful, disgusting thoughts, they're yours to keep forever, or eventually discard. They're protected by the same Supreme Court decisions that many gay activists cite when arguing for gay marriage. Perhaps if both pro- and anti-Prop 8 people realized that (particularly pro-Prop 8 people, I think), perhaps we wouldn't be having this argument right now.

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  3. Anonymous4:09 PM

    come back there?
    no thanks
    the food still sucks
    and now we know the floor manager and owner's daughter is a BIGOT

    fuck you

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  4. I guess it all depends on what your goal is. If you want to cause a big scene and draw a lot of attention to yourself, I guess a noisy demonstration is the way to go. But what if you want to change people's minds? I am traveling to Utah this month where I have a few friends who are, I think, members of the church. Their faith is wavering. If I can say to them, "Hey, you guys are working actors; you give %10 of the small amount of money you make each year to fuck up my friends." They may be okay with that; maybe hearing it from me will make them see it in a different way. But I think starting with 4 people I know is a better way to change minds than shouting at a group.

    Everyone can support the repeal of Prop 8 in the manner he likes best. -Myles

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  5. As you said, this is not your battle on a deep level, and it is that deep emotional reaction that we gays are feeling that will keep us from going back to El Coyote.

    A silver lining of Prop. 8's passage is that it has woken up many gays from their political slumber. We all feel attacked since we've learned that a majority of our seemingly tolerant neighbors will blithely take away our civil rights. For gays (and our more dedicated allies), dinner at El Coyote is now something like going on holiday to South Africa in the 1980s. The pickets will stop, but among politically aware gays--which is most of us now--El Coyote is off limits.

    All of my gay friends do not plan on returning, including one friend who had been going there since he was a kid. I'm afraid Margie's donation has succeeded in making El Coyote's clientele more like a TGI Friday's in Simi Valley than the diverse place you loved. Enjoy dining with those wacky Mormons because most of the gays aren't coming back.

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  6. Michael3:57 PM

    Sorry, Jess. Your words are sage, but I'm with Todd. None of my gay minions will set foot there again (at least not for a while - until Margie does something meaningful.) The mormons don't deserve it, but they can have El Coyote. We were thinking El Chavo on Sunset or Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake. Great margaritas too. Come join us! We promise a gay old time.

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  7. Michael, I'd be glad to come out for a margarita. El Chavo has some of my favorite Mexican dishes in town (their chile verde and tostadas). I love the margaritas there. Casita del Campo I don't know, but am always keen to learn as long as you don't make me go to El Conquistador (awful service, gasoliney margaritas) - or El Compadre (alas, food poisoning one too many times).

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  8. An interesting qualifier: how many times is TOO many times to be food poisoned? If one is mithriditizing, there's no such thing as enough poison! Mmmm, poison. Have you waded through J. Gold's 99 Essentials yet?

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  9. tatman11:56 AM

    I'm tired of all these lectures from people who have no skin in this game -- from people who lost nothing from the passage of Prop H8 and its slanderous, demonizing attacks on gay people.

    If Marjie belonged to a church that preached Jewish persecution was the will of God, and she donated money to a campaign aimed at "eliminating the right of Jews to [fill in the blank]" would anyone dare say we should respect her beliefs?

    Would anyone concern troll the Anti-Defamation League if it called for a boycott?

    Would anyone try to make protesters feel bad about not wanting to give their money to a person who funds anti-Semitic political causes?

    I think not.

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